The Puppet and Mrs S

The Puppet and Mrs S

I was dyslexic before educators knew what dyslexic was. So, seeking to explain why I couldn’t spell, why I stumbled all over whatever I was told to read aloud, and why I was slow to complete assignments, I was called lazy, stupid, and an assortment of other things. The low-point of my first grade year in school was being made to stand in the corner of the room as punishment for not being able to read a paragraph aloud without errors. Humiliation was part of pedagogy back then. I was an over-sensitive child who felt like I was being put into the public stocks in a 17th century New England town.

I don’t know how I eventually got referred to the school’s reading specialist. That came after I’d gotten to the point that I hated school and I’d even stopped having interest in books (which I’d loved since my parents started reading to me — long before my earliest memories).

Mrs S was a young woman in her mid-20s. Of course, she didn’t seem young to me at the time (mid-20s being on the nearer end of ‘ancient’). She was an openly kind and compassionate person. She was a keen observer and she did not rush to label behaviour. The first few weeks she watched me, sat and talked with me, and encouraged me to read. I couldn’t.  Continue reading

The Freedom of Folded Paper

The Freedom of Folded Paper

When I was in my teens and twenties I bought notebooks of all kinds. I saw these as the workshops for my ideas. Much of my thinking was (and is) connected with the act of writing. I liked notebooks because I could take them with me anywhere, they came in different sizes and styles, and I could even choose the sort of paper they contained — the colour, lines or no lines (or even what kind of lines).

Nevertheless, with all that freedom, I often found myself paralyzed when I poised my pen over the paper and got ready to write. Would the thoughts be good enough? Would I want to see them there later when I read through the contents of the notebook? The formality of the structure of the notebook itself added a sense of importance to what would go inside of it. Most days, I carried around a notebook and never wrote in it. The pages would get wet when I was caught in a sudden rainstorm. They would be coloured by splashes of coffee. But the words written came slowly.  Continue reading

In-Class Discussions and Those Who Are Not Quick to Speak

In-Class Discussions and Those Who Are Not Quick to Speak

He sat there and never added a word to the conversation. From semester to semester his professors asked him, encouraged him, and even begged him to participate. He was a graduate student. Seminars were about sharing ideas with each other.

He, in turn, was frustrated. He was taking things in, thinking, forming his own thoughts, having insights. But, by the time he was ready to say something, the conversation was already on another subject. Often, two or more subjects had come and gone. His thoughts were ‘old news.’

It didn’t help that he was also shy; almost to the point of feeling mortified by the prospect of jumping into a ‘real-time’ discussion of ideas. Some of the students were confident and did not worry about venturing ideas before even they knew what they meant. Some people, he realized, think out loud (and sometimes not even very well!).

That ‘he,’ of course was me as a student. Continue reading

The Usefulness of Deadlines

The Usefulness of Deadlines

Sometimes I’ve said I would love to live in a world without deadlines. And, perhaps such a world could be wonderful. But I am not always sure.

When I was in graduate school, I had two professors during the same semester. Since they were my major and minor area supervisors, this happened most semesters, in fact. One had an absolutely rock-solid deadline policy. I knew he would give extensions for hospitalization and similar extreme reasons (but not much else). The other professor believed an assignment should be turned in on time; but realized that things take their own time. Oddly enough, I had tremendous stress preparing work for both of them.  Continue reading

Challenging But Not Severe

Challenging But Not Severe

My dad was right; I have forgotten almost everything any teacher worked to teach me. It is my character that has been improved. (Please see previous post.) That is the lasting influence of those who were most effective. The facts and skills I have taught myself (often again) as I have needed them. I was empowered by the best of my teachers to teach myself and learn what I needed.

What is common to the teacher’s whose presence in my life I still recall and influence I can still trace is that they were all demanding — but not severe. Continue reading

A Good Teacher is a Good Student

A Good Teacher is a Good Student

‘I can’t be a teacher — I’m just learning. I don’t know enough to teach.’

The woman, a student in one of my classes, sat across the small round table from me. She was a few years older than I was. We were both already middle-aged. I sat there thinking about what she said. She was a year away from graduating with her master’s degree; about the same time she would have her first job — in which she would be required to teach.

She looked at me expectantly. I sat there, thinking and smiling.

‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’ she said with a note of irritation in her voice.

‘What would you like me to say?’ I asked. She looked exasperated.  Continue reading

What Are You Fighting Against?

What Are You Fighting Against?

‘What are you fighting against?’

We were all sitting around our professor, on the floor, on drawing horses, or on tackle boxes filled with art supplies. We were in a darkened university drawing studio. A few minutes before, he had sent the model out for a break and beckoned us to join him for some philosophical reflection. This was a regular part of being his student; and it was an aspect of his teaching that most of us appreciated.

But, no one ventured a reply to his question. He had a fine intellect; one of the best I’ve encountered. It was easy to feel intimidated when speaking with him. Sometimes those who answered before he made clear where he wanted to go with his thoughts hit embarrassingly far from the mark.

‘What makes you angry?’  Continue reading

The Point of All Learning

The Point of All Learning

The point of all learning is the improvement of character.

This is written across the top of the whiteboard in my office. It is there as a personal and professional statement of purpose.

When I was about seven years old, right about this time of year, my dad was setting up his classroom at an elementary school in New Hudson, Michigan. It was late afternoon and golden light was flooding that room in the old schoolhouse. Dad had been watching me for the day. He’d kept me busy with tasks like lining up the desks in perfect rows, rewashing the chalkboard so that it met his standards of clean, and organizing the pens and pencils in his desk. It was perfect training for a child who would one day grow up to have very fine OCD habits of his own. Then, as my stomach reminded me that the day was nearly done, Dad suddenly stopped what he was doing and summoned my attention by calling my name.

‘Glen, there are two things you need to know and remember:  Continue reading